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Create Barcodes in Microsoft Word

Once you start delving into Microsoft Word, you find it can do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t expect. One of these is that it can be used to create barcodes, and it’s surprisingly easy to do. Once you’ve made your barcodes, they can be scanned with any barcode scanner or an app on your smartphone.

There are many different types of barcodes, but this article will focus on one of the most common and easiest to use – Code 39 or ‘old fashioned’ line barcode. Modern, square QR codes are also possible in Word and Office with many clever uses.

Code 39 barcodes are used to label goods in many industries, and allow you to use both digits and characters. The main limitations of Code39 barcodes are length (originally they could only encode 39 characters, but that has been increased to 43) and they cannot handle special characters.

There are three main steps to creating barcodes in Word:

1. Download and install the appropriate barcode font.

2. Format your text correctly.

3. Apply the barcode font to the text.

Download and Install a Barcode Font

There are plenty of font websites that supply barcode fonts. There are free barcode fonts available, but some work better than others. If you have trouble finding a free barcode font that works well, it may be worthwhile paying through a commercial font foundry.

Free fonts seem to come and go, but we found this one that works for Code 39 barcodes:

When you download a font, it usually comes enclosed in a zip file, so you will need to extract the files using WinZip or another zip file extractor program. If there is more than one file in the folder, the one you are looking for is the one with the .ttf extension (TrueType) or .otf (OpenType)

To install the font once you’ve extracted it, double-click on the .ttf/.otf file and click Install in the window that opens. It’s no different to any other Windows or Mac font install.

You may need to close and reopen Word for the new font to show up in your font list. Like any other font, it will simply appear in the alphabetical dropdown list of fonts. Some barcode fonts may only display as a barcode in the list; if so, you can hover over it to see the name of the font if you have more than one.

Format Your Text Correctly

Barcodes only work if the text they are created from is formatted in a certain way. This is generally pretty easy though, and there are websites out there to help you for the barcodes that require trickier formats.

Code 39 barcodes can only be used for short, fairly simple barcodes, the formatting rules are also fairly simple. The only characters that can be encoded with a Code 39 barcode are uppercase letters A-Z, numbers 0-9, the symbols hyphen (-), period (.), dollar sign ($), forward slash (/), plus (+) and percentage (%), and a space, which must be replaced with an underscore in your original text (_).

It also requires an asterisk (*) at the beginning and end to indicate the start and finish of the barcode.

For example, if we are using our barcode to label some clothing products with their prices, our medium red shirt could be barcoded using the text:


Apply the Barcode Font to the Text

Now that you have the text that you want to turn into a barcode in the right format, select the text and first increase it to a fairly large font size, the biggest you can make it while keeping the text on one line. Otherwise the barcode may be too small to scan. Then with the text still selected, go to Home | Font and select your barcode font.

Your text will now be replaced by a barcode:

Scanning Your Barcode

You don’t need a physical barcode scanner to check that your barcode works, and you don’t need to print it out. It’s best to test barcodes on the device that will usually read them (checkout / hand scanner etc). There are lots of barcode scanning apps available for smartphones, so just search in the App Store or Google Play Store to find one for your phone. You can then use the app to scan the barcode straight off your computer screen to make sure it works before you print it.

The barcode we created above looks like this when scanned on my Samsung phone:

Other Barcode Types

There are many other types of barcodes available for various industries and uses. Code 128 is another common one which can be created through Word in a similar way to Code 39. The formatting of the text for a Code 128 barcode is more complicated, but ID Automation provide a handy tool that will encode the text for Code 128 and other barcode formats. They also provide commercial barcode fonts with a demo version available for you to test out before you buy. With these two tools, the process will be basically the same as described for Code 39, except for the extra step of copying your text into their tool to encode it, and then back into Word to create the barcode.

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